Rock Impressions

by Giancarlo Bolther

Hi Giancarlo!
Following please find my completed interview for Flash. I really enjoyed the questions, I hope you enjoy the answers!

Best wishes,

Are you satisfied with the new record? What has the response been?
I am very satisfied with 'Into the Sunset'. Although I worked very hard on it, I had great focus right from the start, and I also had an extraordinary group of musicians joining me on the recordings. This made the process a real pleasure. So far the response has been extremely positive - I gets lots of email from all over the world from fans of both progressive rock and heavy metal. The press seems to like the album as well, and that is always nice, of course.

Which are the differences that you feel, regarding your two solo releases?
My 'Threshold' album from 1997 was an all-instrumental album with just keyboards, bass and drums, and 'Into the Sunset' is a heavy symphonic release with big guitars and aggressive vocals. So the sound of the albums is obviously quite different. But the compositional style, the chord voicings, the sense of harmony, solos, etc. all remains fairly consistent between the two.

What does this new record mean for you?
'Into the Sunset' is my first venture into the realm of prog metal. I have been a fan of hard rock and metal music since I was a kid. In addition to all of the classic prog music, I listened to quite a lot of Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Blue Oyster Cult (all bands with colors in their names, I guess!). But beginning in the 90s, I started hearing this new hybrid of progressive rock and heavy metal. Perhaps Dream Theater was the leader in that movement. Since then, I have really enjoyed music from bands like Symphony X, Luca Turilli and Rhapsody, Angra, and of course, my favorite modern band ... Ayreon! 'Into the Sunset' is my flirtation with this prog metal style which I truly believe is the next phase in the evolution of progressive rock.

How did your musical career begin?
My parents started me on piano lessons at age 8. I continued to study music on through junior high and high school, where I learned saxophone and clarinet as well. I learned a bit about jazz theory in high school which helped me with improvisation and chord substitutions. And during high school I bought my first (cheap!) synthesizer which allowed me to start playing in bands. This was the mid-80s, so I was able to afford a Rhodes piano as well since these instruments were fairly out of favor. Through gigging with bands and some session work, I was able to start purchasing some better instruments. By the time I was 19 or 20, I had acquired some really good synth gear which helped me to get better and better gigs, both in the studio and with live bands. Meanwhile I was attending the university where I continued to study the piano and some classical technique including some rigorous ear training. But the best training I received came from my experience playing rock music in the clubs of Hollywood.

Your relationship with Lana is unique in the music world, what's it like for you?
Lana and I met playing music (her band hired me as their keyboardist back in 1987), so music has always been a part of our relationship. I can't imagine our marriage without music - it's just so intertwined. We have built up a mutual artistic trust, which I think is absolutely critical in any musical collaboration, and this definitely shows through in our work together. It is also nice when we tour because we only need one hotel room for the two of us. ;-)

How much are you artistically influenced by Lana?
I think that Lana and I each influence the other quite a bit. Lana has a great artistic sensibility, and of course her feeling for melody and pitch is quite incredible as well. Fortunately we have similar tastes in music, film and art. We are both fans of the surreal, and we enjoy suspense and science fiction. When we produce an album, it always about the concept of "Lana Lane", not about us as individuals. And I think it runs full circle, because the Lana Lane music actually re-defines us as individuals. We become of a part of the art that we create.

How did you meet Lana?
Lana was playing in a band in the late 80s that was three female vocalists and a four piece backing band. They needed a new keyboardist, and their drummer was a friend of mine, and he suggested that they hire me. They did, and Lana and I immediately became friends and started writing together and hanging out together. I convinced Lana to quit the band because she was a superior vocalist and artist, and this lead to her first album, 'Love is an Illusion' from 1995. Along the way, Lana did a lot of session work, and she even sang harmonies and vocal pads on my projects such as Rocket Scientists.

Which are the difficulties in being partners in your private and public life?
We have been together for 13 years now, and I don't see any difficulties with this issue so far. Maybe since we started off together within the context of rock n' roll, it has just been a natural life for us.

You and Mark share the responsability to carry on Rocket Scientists, how do you split up the various tasks?
It's similar to way Lana and I work within the context of Lana Lane. In Rocket Scientists, Mark is the singer, guitarist and many times the songwriter as well. I take the role of producer, arranger and keyboardist, and most of the times I am also the lyricist. Mark handles the vocals and vocal harmony arrangements as well as most of the guitar work, and I handle all the keyboard work of course. Both of us write charts for the bass player and drummer and any other guest musicians, and both of us agree on the songs that will go on the albums, whether they are written by me, Mark or if they are cover versions.

Can you describe to us your meeting and your collaborations with Emerson?
I met Keith at a music trade show back in 1995. I had just done some design and programming work on a new synthesizer as well as programming a CD ROM with all of Keith's classic synth and organ sounds on it. The company that hired me to do this stuff introduced me to Keith, and we just got along really well. We became friends and just stayed in touch. Keith was nice enough to write the liner notes for my 1997 'Threshold' CD booklet which I think really helped to give me some good credibility. He's definitely my all-time favorite keyboardist - a real rock hero.

Have you some new projects together?
Lana and I just finished recording a new Ballad Collection album which will be released in Europe at the end of November as a two CD set. The first CD will be all new material, including several really great cover songs. The second CD will contain all of the songs from the Lana Lane Ballad Collection from 1998 that was only released in Japan along with Lana's beautiful cover of Marillion's "Seasons End". Lana will also contribute a track to forthcoming Uriah Heep tribute album from Century Media. Rocket Scientists will make an appearance on the Progfest 2000 compilation CD from the French label Musea which should be released in February 2001. And then of course we are always writing for the next albums...

You are collaborating intensively with Lucassen; will you continue to work together?
Yes, definitely. Arjen and I are good friends, and I believe we have a really great respect for eachother's talents. I hope to do a lot more work with him in the future.

How is it to work with so many different artists?
It is truly a pleasure and a privilege to work so many great artists. I learn new things from each artist with whom I work, and that is of immeasurable value. I also get to make some great new friends this way, too.

Who is the one that impressed you most?
That is a difficult question to answer. Arjen Lucassen has brilliant vision and a fantastic production sense, Tony Franklin exudes music no matter what instrument he picks up, Lana Lane is a passionate, highly committed artist, Ed Warby has incredible double kick drum technique, Mark McCrite has an awesome sense of harmony ... they all impress me!

What do you think about the current symphonic and progressive metal scene? Don't you feel that there are too many bands now? Do you think that this is good?
I think the current symphonic and prog metal scene is really fantastic, and as I have said above, I truly believe that prog metal is the next stage in the evolution of progressive rock. While the 60's and 70's progressive music combined rock with jazz, folk, classical and electronic elements, the new prog metal movements combines all of those progressive elements with 70's and 80's heavy metal. It's a great hybrid. Finally "progressive" music is actually progressing! We can't just recycle Yes, King Crimson and Genesis forever.
As far as the sheer number of bands playing this music, that is only positive. Sure, some bands are better than others, but the cream will always rise to the top, and hopefully even the worst bands will continue to grow and will one day become great bands. I think it is a bad idea to discourage anyone who truly strives to create art. There is much commerical junk in the world, we need to encourage art, and we need to allow artists to grow, mature and evolve. Very few people are simply born as a Puccini, Beethoven or Chopin. You have to develop these skills.

You have done almost 20 records in 8 years, how are you able to be so creative?
Ha! If you count the albums on which I just appear as a keyboardist, it's much more than 20! Well, I have wanted to play rock music all of my life, and I have built up a creative sense over the years. When I was in school, I would constantly daydream of song ideas, of synthesizer sounds, of musical concepts. Somehow I still managed to graduate! So now that I have this precious opportunity to make music for a living, I take it very, very seriously. Most people don't get the chance, and I think every day how lucky I am to be able to do this. I think that is what really motivates me.

How hard is to coordinate so many different projects at once?
The trick is to focus on one project at a time. When projects start to overlap, it becomes difficult. I really try to avoid that situation. Of course, sometimes you can't avoid it. There was a time in late 1999 when I was simultaneously working on 'Lana Lane - Secrets of Astrology', 'Erik Norlander - Into the Sunset' and 'Ayreon - The Universal Migrator'. That was a crazy time. But I managed to keep it all straight, and I quickly seperated the projects into specific weeks so that one would not cause the other to suffer. I am very proud of all three of those projects, although they definitely gave me some gray hairs!

At this point in your carree,r which are the projects that you still would like to realize?
I really want to do an album with an orchestra. I am looking forward to this day, and I know it will come soon. I think that many Eastern European orchestras are now open to working with rock musicians, and if the economics can allow it, I would definitely travel to these places to record. That would be a great adventure and a milestone in my life.

Are you satisfied?
Satisfied with my life? Yes. Satisfied with my past accomplishments? Yes. But satisfied with my music in general? No, and I don't think I ever will be. If I was satisfied with my music, then there would be no point in continuing. I think there are certain classic albums that an artist never surpasses: Pink Floyd 'Dark Side of the Moon', Rush 'Moving Pictures', Yes 'Close to the Edge', just to name a few. I don't think I have reached that point yet. I'm only 33 years old, though, so I still have a lot more of the road to travel before I am done!

Among your influences, you have mentioned the BOC, what do you like about this band?
What a great band! Blue Oyster Cult combines really heavy metal with great science fiction themes and fantasy settings. They also are quite melodic, and they write very memorable songs. I love the guitar playing of Buck Dharma and the voice of Eric Bloom - a fantastic pairing. I have seen them live about 10 times, the first time was when I was only about 15 years old! I think my favorite album is 'Secret Treaties', although I also like 'Fire of Unknown Origin' and even 'The Revolution By Night' except for the Simmons drums. But there is great music on all of their albums. Even the album 'Mirrors', which is perhaps a bit obscure, has some great stuff on it.

Can you say something about your love for literature and sci-fi?
Literature and science fiction are not only a great escape, they are also mind expanding. Opening one's thoughts to other worlds and alternate realities really deepens your view - much like traveling to a foreign country. You see ordinary life differently, and you gain a wider perspective on life in general. Fantasy is essential, of course, but an open mind - that is an absolute necessity in life. When you close your mind, you begin to die.

Are you able to find time for reading books?
Actually, yes I do! Especially when I travel - on an airplane or a train - those are the best times for reading. It's a bit difficult to do at home because there are so many distractions, but sometimes I can do it. However, living in California, it takes at least 10 hours to fly to either Europe or Japan, so I am on these long plane flights quite often. Usually there is some kind of layover, too, and that it the perfect environment for reading. You are in a strange place with nothing to do. Open the book!

Will you come to play in Italy?
Is this an invitation? Yes! I accept! I have never been to Italy, and I have wanted to visit for many years. I really hope we can play there soon. There is so much history there - back to the ancient Romans and beyond! Of course, Italy is perhaps the most artistic place on earth - all of the sculptures, paintings, even the very architecture is the summit of man's creativity. And you have a nice climate, too, I think. Okay, when does my flight leave?

Grazie, Giancarlo! I really appreciate the support!


Threshold (1997)
Into the Sunset (2000)
Music Machine (2003)

With Rocket Scientists:
Earthbound" (1993)
Brutal Architecture (1995)
Earth Below and Sky Above Live (1998)
Oblivion Days (1999)

With Lana Lane:
Love Is An Illusion (1995)
Curious Goods (1996)
Garden of the Moon (1998)
Echoes from the Garden (1998)
Live in Japan (1998)
Ballad Collection (1998)
Queen of the Ocean (1999)
Echoes from the Ocean (1999)
Secrets of Astrology (2000)

Main collaborations:
Joshua "Surrender" (1988)
Paul Sabu “Paul Sabu” (1994)
Neil Citron "Guitar Dreams" (1998)
Ayreon “The Universal Migrator part I/II” (2000)

Interviews: 2003

Reviews (in italian): Threshold s.e.; Music Machine; EEC Tour 2001; EEC Tour 2003;
Stars Rain Down
; Seas of Orion; Hommage Symphonique

Live Reportage (in italian)

Article (in italian)

Web Site

Related Artists: Rocket Scientists; Lana Lane


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